The Big Big Picture – Global Climate Change

It is a scientific fact, not an opinion, that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from fossil fuels are warming the planet. The greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour scatter some of the outgoing radiation from the Earth to re-warm the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface. When in balance this effect keeps the world habitable but the increase in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning since the start of the Industrial Revolution has directly contributed to a warming effect. A warmer world with more energy in the atmosphere means a changing climate and more extreme weather.

Since the industrial revolution, which started here in England, we have converted vast amounts of underground fossil carbon (coal, oil and gas) into CO2 and released it into the atmosphere. At the same time we have converted vast amounts of carbon held in trees and peat soils into CO2 and released that into the atmosphere. A lot of this CO2 is re-absorbed by the oceans and by plants but a residual remains in the atmosphere each year leading to warming.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations (parts per million)  for the last 1100 years

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations (parts per million) for the last 1100 years

The steam engine was patented in 1769, see graph. Source

Our everyday activities are leading to unprecedented planetary changes which may prove dangerous unless they are curtailed.

This is why the government passed the Climate Change Act 2008 – to constrain our contribution to global climate change to within 2° C warming by reducing our CO2 emissions to less than 80% of the 1990 baseline by 2050. This means fundamentally changing our energy generation sector and the way we use energy. The Climate Change Act was passed with overwhelming support in Parliament. It is the law.

To advise the government on carbon emissions targets the Committee on Climate Change was established as an independent body.

The difficult bit is to find an energy mix that both keeps the lights on and deals with the greenhouse gas emissions problem.

The seriously worrying bit is that in 2012 global CO2 emissions were 2.6% higher than 2011 and 58% higher than 1990 levels. We are going in the wrong direction – fast.

Here is an even Bigger Big Picture.

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